For at least two days this week China has conducted air drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast, prompting angry condemnation and warning from the island that China claims as a breakaway territory.
According to Taiwan spokespersons, advanced People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Su-30 and J-10 fighters have conducted drills over the waters between Taiwan and Pratas Island, a small Taiwan-controlled feature in the South China Sea and intruded into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ). The Taiwanese military issued radio warnings to the Chinese planes until they departed the area.
Taiwan has been carrying out live-fire exercises of its own in the area involving long-range anti-air missiles.
Pratas Island is home to an air strip and a small mixed civilian and military population. The island lays more than two hundred nautical miles off Taiwan’s southwest coast in the South China Sea but is closer to mainland China, about 150 nautical miles southeast from Hong Kong. China claims Pratas as part of Guangdong Province.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the incursion of PLA fighter jets, calling them threats against the country and regional peace and warning that “Taiwan does not seek confrontation, but neither will it back down.”
ADIZs are unilaterally declared and have no agreed-upon standing in international law. States declare them to more effectively identify aircraft that may be approaching sensitive territory in order to give its forces time to respond to potential attacks but they are not legally considered “no go” zones, and often extend far beyond the declarer’s sovereign airspace.
China declared an ADIZ of its own in the East China Sea straddling contested areas also claimed by Japan and international compliance is mixed; the zone is largely ignored by civil and military air traffic from Japan and South Korea. It has been long suspected that China might declare a new ADIZ in the South China Sea that would encompass Pratas Island and other Taiwanese-claimed territory.
As China has ramped up military exercises around Taiwan this summer, President Tsai Ing-Wen warned in late August that rising tensions and military activity heightened the danger of a clash between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China: “The risk of conflict requires careful management by all the parties concerned. We expect and hope that Beijing will continue to exercise restraint consistent with their obligations as a major regional power.”
Taiwan conducted major military exercises of its own this summer to demonstrate its readiness to repel a potential invasion by China.